MOBILE, Alabama – Gary Schales is a pilot and warden with California Fish and Game. He’s been flying over the gulf for the past several months with a NOAA biological observer. His mission has changed from simply spotting oil.
“We’ve transitioned to looking for stressed wildlife and on standby and patrolling for any oil that might come up,” says Schales. We’re on the lookout for wildlife like turtles that could hide in sargassum. At 500 feet up, the turtles are very hard to see. They look like a tiny dot on the water. We had two sightings in what is sometimes a hit or miss job.
“Where we saw 40 turtles in 15 minutes and then some days we’ll go a couple flights and not see a turtle at all,” says NOAA Observer Brett Dodson. Observations are logged and the data is sent back to boats for further investigation.
“The boats will go over the sargassum mats and look at the turtles, see if they’re oiled and work with them from there,” says Dodson.